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Gentility in English Poetry

  • Stephen Regan
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Part of the The Critics Debate book series (TCD)

Abstract

In 1963 Robert Conquest published a second anthology of contemporary poetry, New Lines II in which he once again paid tribute to the persistence and variety of ‘the central current of English verse’. Modernist innovations such as might be found in the poetry of Ezra Pound were, for Conquest, little more than ‘peripheral additions to the main tradition of English poetry’. Acknowledging the work of Philip Larkin as an essential continuation of this tradition, Conquest continued in a vein of strident anti-modernism:

One even comes across the impudent assertion that English poets were unaware of the existence of the darker elements in the human personality, and of large-scale suffering, until psychoanalysts and world wars drew attention to them, and this is compounded with transparently spurious logic, by the notion that the way to cope with these forces is to abandon sanity and hope. (Conquest, 1963, pp.xiii–xiv)

Without being explicit about the matter, Conquest was responding to a rival anthology, The New Poetry (1962) in which Alfred Alvarez had strongly criticised the work of the Movement (and Larkin in particular) for failing to deal with the full range of human experience.

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© Stephen Regan 1992

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  • Stephen Regan

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